American swimmer Michael Phelps made history at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Olympic Games. He now has has his sights on the London Olympics hoping to add to his medal haul.
Phelps made his first U.S. Olympic swimming team at the age of 15 in 2000. That year, at the Sydney Games, he made the finals in the 200-meter butterfly and placed fifth. Four years later, he won six gold and two bronze medals at the Athens Olympics.
After his stellar performances at the past two Olympics, he holds 14 gold medals and 16 overall.
The athlete who holds the all-time record for total medals with 18 is former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who ended her Olympic career in 1964. Phelps recently met her at a photo shoot in New York, which he describes as "an honor".
Phelps says he has his own personal goals to accomplish this time, and only he and longtime coach Bob Bowman know what they are.
“We have been working together as a team for so long and that is how we have always worked. You know we have just never shared our goals [with others],” he explains.
But certainly goal number one is to make the U.S. Olympic swim team for the fourth time. The national qualifying trials for the London Games will be in Omaha, Nebraska, at the end of June, during which Phelps will turn 27 on June 30. He will only say he will enter the events that will give him the best opportunity to succeed.
The 1.93-meter-tall Phelps told a packed news conference in Dallas recently that he is not planning to swim eight races, as he did in Beijing.
“I know it will not be eight gold or eight medals again," he admits. "You know if you guys want to compare me to that, that is your decision, it is not mine. But I am going out there to try to accomplish the things that I have in my mind and in my heart. And, you know, if I can do that, and I can have fun, then that is really all that matters to me.”
After winning eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing, Michael Phelps admits he was burned out. He then ran into a bit of trouble in 2009 when a British tabloid (News of the World) ran a photo of him allegedly smoking marijuana. USA Swimming suspended him for three months. Phelps called it a growing and learning experience.
The star swimmer acknowledges his training and performances were not always up to his high standards the past few years. He says he just did not feel like putting in the required practice, but now he has the passion back.
“That was something that I just had to find for myself, and you know once I found it I enjoyed coming to work out. And you know, it was not like pulling my hair or kicking and screaming to come,” Phelps says.
His biggest challenger appears to be fellow-American Ryan Lochte, who beat Phelps twice at last year’s World Championships.
But the swimmer says he never focuses on beating any one individual because of the level of talent throughout swimming.
“There are people from all over the world who are contenders and I think that has kind of been fun about it. You know you can go out and you can have eight people who step up every single final who could be within a second of each other,” Phelps says.
Phelps says losing motivates him. He is also motivated by the chance to better Larisa Latynina’s record of 18 Olympic medals. He only learned of the mark when someone told him about it earlier this year.
“You know I think in a way it is kind of cool that there is a possibility to rewrite history or, you know, to be up there with some of the greats in Olympic history,” he says.
Phelps says throughout his remarkable swimming career he has been keeping a journal.
“Being able to just write some of these things down on paper, I think it has been something that has been very, very special, Phelps explains. "And, it is going to be cool for me to look back in, you know, 10, 15 years and just look back at everything that I was doing.”
He hopes that includes some gold medals at the London Olympics. Michael Phelps has said, although his mother would like him to, he does not plan to try to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He says he will be content to go watch them with her.